The future of wearable tech looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Remember those movies that came out in the ’80s and ’90s – like Terminator and Demolition Man – that forecast a futuristic society where technology was so woven into everyday life that it was hard to tell where the human ended and the cyborg began? When those films were made the futurist times they predicted were so remote that their version of integrated technology – something of the internet of things we are heading towards today – seemed implausible. However, Terminator was set in 2029 and Demolition Man in 2032, which are now just around the corner, and we couldn’t be farther from the techno-tatorship that was suggested by those films. Or could we?
In August of this year it was announced by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that the U.S. government plans to fund high-tech firms and researchers to further the field of FlexTech: flexible technology that can be worn by humans, boats, drones, airplanes, and almost anything one would care to monitor. And this was no chump change investment – the Defense Department is cutting a check for an impressive $75 million.
The money is being given to the FlexTech Alliance, made up of 162 different companies, which will themselves add another $90 million to the sum. Local governments are also feeling generous, boosting the five-year funding total to $171 million.
The basic idea behind flexible technology is to combine the best of two very current, very innovative pieces of hardware. The hybrid will combine today’s miniscule processors – which the tech industry has been progressively making smaller – with large surfaces of different materials that have been designed to integrate their connectivity over broad, making highly sensitive connected sensors that cover anything from the shirt of a marathon runner to the outer shell of a warship.
Defense industries also have the potential to receive real-time data from soldiers wearing the same kind of flexible hybrid electronics, making it possible to evaluate anything from injury during wartime to dehydration in soldiers. I’m having images of Robert Downey Junior, though we are not quite to Iron Man level just yet. Now picture those scenes in Star Trek where the spaceship has been hit and they immediately know the precise location of the hit as well as the extent of the structural integrity damage. Now picture that spaceship here on Earth…
With such a large amount of funding going into this industry, the time for businesses to cash in is now. With America’s defense industry investing in such massive expansion in technology sectors, tech companies that are at the forefront of flextech are perfectly poised for huge growth opportunities.
The consumer market will no doubt take advantage of the progress made by the FlexTech Alliance, and many consumer-based industries stand to benefit from what lies ahead if they invest in developing flextech now. Shipments of wearable technology are expected to jump from 20 million in 2014 to 126 million in 2019. Such a large increase reflects the growing popularity of such items as Apple Watch, FitBit and the Ralph Lauren PoloTech shirt, all of which further automate our lives and blur the lines between reality and virtual.
The defense industry and fashion-conscious consumer will not be the only potential target for wearable companies. The medical industry stands to benefit from wearable hybrid tech, with customized fitness programs that can track your measurements day to day to early health warnings based on physiological warning signs that could otherwise go undetected. This delves even more into the burgeoning market of computer-aided medical monitoring.
Although it may be some time before robots made out of completely malleable metal become the front line in a battlefield, wearable tech is its own battlefield with almost unlimited potential in today’s market. Fortune favors the brave, so don’t just use your tech, but wear it!
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